Health Highlights: June 5, 2007

Researchers found that 6.1 percent of 633 Canadian children of divorced parents were prescribed Ritalin, compared with 3.3 percent of 4,151 children whose parents were still married, the Canadian Press reported.

Study author Lisa Strohschein of the University of Alberta said there may be a number of reasons why Ritalin use is higher among children of divorced parents.

The stress of divorce may aggravate a child's existing ADHD-related behavioral problems to the point where a doctor decides that Ritalin may be helpful. In other cases, children of divorced parents may channel their anger, anxiety and sadness into behavior that's mislabeled as ADHD-like.

In some situations, Strohschein said, parents and doctors may give Ritalin to children in anticipation of behavioral problems that may be caused by the stress of divorce, the CP reported.

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Ecstasy Use Affects Verbal Memory

The popular club drug ecstasy may damage areas of the brain involved with verbal memory, says a study by Dutch researchers.

They found that ecstasy users scored significantly lower than non-users on a test of verbal memory. The test involved memorizing a series of 15 words and repeating them immediately and again 20 minutes later, The Scotsman reported.

The study appears in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

It's believed that ecstasy affects cells in the brain that produce the chemical serotonin, a nerve message transmitter involved with learning and memory, The Scotsman reported.

"Our data indicates that low doses of ecstasy are associated with decreased verbal memory function, which is suggestive for ecstasy-induced neurotoxicity," the study authors wrote. "Further research on the long-term effects of ecstasy, as well as on the possibility of additive effects of ecstasy use on aging of the brain, is needed."

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Medicare Cuts Will Reduce Access to Doctors: AMA Poll

Next year's planned 10 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians will limit seniors' access to doctors, according to a survey of 9,000 doctors released Monday by the American Medical Association.

"The AMA is deeply concerned by the alarming news that 60 percent of America's physicians will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they will be able to care for next year when Medicare cuts physician payments," AMA Board Chair Dr. Cecil B. Wilson said in a prepared statement.

The AMA wants Congress to stop the payment cut and, instead, increase payments by 1.7 percent in 2008 to keep pace with doctors' cost increases.

Next year's 10 percent cut would be the first in a series of payment reductions. Over nine years, total cuts will amount to about 40 percent, while the cost of caring for patients will increase by about 20 percent, the AMA said.

The survey found that 77 percent of physicians said they'll be forced to limit the number of Medicare patients as a result of the cuts.

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